I have been thinking about this for a while, if someone asked me to either create my own promotion or take over the creative for an existing promotion and I was told that I had a binary choice between wrestling being a morality play or being approached as a sport…I would make it resemble a sport with no faces and heels.
The first thing that I should note is that I believe that wrestling should be both. At the same time, the sporting aspect is more important to me than the morality play aspect. I think that if charismatic characters can articulate their goals, then that is what wrestling should be. I think even heels should be able to do that. I don’t know if most wrestlers would be considered to be good guys if they portrayed their real personality on their air. What I do know is that for the most part wrestlers aren’t actors and more to the point their real life stories are probably more interesting than anything a booking team can come up with.
The G-1 is a perfect example as to what I am talking about. The tournament is round-robin in both blocks which means there will be heel-heel and face-face matches axiomatically. There have been some matches in the G-1 that have suffered from that dynamic. With that said I would love for WWE to do something like the G-1 even if there are some matches where the fans may not know who to root for because it makes wins and losses paramount. If the structure was that there were no heels or babyfaces-then the fans would hopefully choose who to root for based on other factors like promos and personality.
One of the biggest problems with WWE is that it doesn’t have a sports-like structure. The 50/50 booking is a negative-but it’s even more of a negative when it is not addressed. In other words, if WWE was treated as sports-then the parity would be addressed by the announcers. The fact that the announcers don’t address the even-steven booking makes it even worse. I’m not a fan of parity booking, but if a company is going to do it-at least comment on how evenly matched the roster is. If a sport/league like the NFL, MLB, NBA or tennis had as much parity as is shown in WWE-that would be a major aspect of the narrative of the league (and for some of the leagues that do have parity-it is an important aspect of the narrative).
The point I am making is that the struggles of the WWE (in my opinion) is more based on the idea that it is not treated as a sport than anything else. I am not saying that the storytelling (i.e.: morality play) aspects of the company are strong-because they aren’t. I am saying that the sports like structure is more of a reason for any issues the WWE has in drawing and/or keeping fans.
The biggest reason why I would make wrestling a sport versus a morality play is because morality is fragmented. I look at the landscape of wrestling and I’m not sure what people want. Do they want Steve Austin? (anti-hero) Do they want Hulk Hogan? (superhero) Do they want Daniel Bryan? (nerd/everyman) What are people willing to pay to see or watch on television, let alone cheer? I will say this-if I was asking this question 20-25 years ago it would be more difficult because it was easier to determine who the good guys and bad guys are. Today, there are so many fans that like heels that if I had to make a choice-I would just make the wins, losses and overall sporting aspect of wrestling more important than “good versus bad.”
One thing that would change my answer is if my roster in general was not good at promos. If I had a roster that was not good at promos-I would have to think of a way to generate interest in the matches and that is where the morality play aspect comes in. I would have to create babyfaces and heels in order to make up for the lack of talking ability. I need the promo ability because there has to be something that draws people to want to watch the (simulated) fight. It can’t just be two (or four or six) men and women in a match just for the sake of having a match.
I do realize how much we would lose by taking away heels and babyfaces. We would lose the Four Horsemen, NWO, Evolution, Bullet Club type of sneak attacks and beatdowns. At the same time, we would not lose heel promos necessarily because if someone wants to do one or come across as a heel I would not stop them. In this hypothetical scenario-the wrestlers would have creative freedom to do what is best for them. The idea is that someone asked me to make a choice and I’m choosing to take away the morality play aspect of wrestling in order to preserve the sporting aspect-but I am not going to tell people how to do their promos.
Ultimately, I am going to go to the popularity of sports on television to make my case. When people care about who wins and loses-there is more interest. Look at the Super Bowl, the conference championships, the World Cup, and even the World Series. As long as the wrestlers have charisma and the tangible measurements (i.e.: titles and perhaps the occasional tournament trophy) mean something then wrestling can work without good guys and bad guys. To be more accurate, it would work better without good guys and bad guys then it would work if we take away the importance of the sporting aspect of the genre.